Yup, you read it right. A winged wolf. How freaking awesome is that?
Pretty awesome, if you ask fourth grade. I told this story for the very first time in my life, it took 30 minutes, and they loved it. If you want instant feedback on a folktale: tell it to fourth grade. They will comment on everything, and you will know what works and what does not by the time you get through your story. Don't forget to take notes.
We started out by collecting mythical monsters on the board. I was completely shocked by the amount of creatures from Greek mythology they could come up with. Halfway through the session it started to dawn on me that I had Percy Jackson to thank for that. Say whatever you want to say about the quality of the book or the movie, but it did teach kids a thing or two about mythology. Most of all, that it is cool.
The Winged Wolf is a Hungarian folktale collected from the northwestern part of the country (actually pretty close to the city where I'm from). It is a long and classic fairy tale with three princes, and flying horses, and magical swords, and dragons, enchanted castles, you name it. And, above all, a winged wolf that can breathe fire.
It was amazing to watch the kids delve into the story. They gasped; they cheered; they helped me when I mixed up words (happens after 4 hours of sleep); they reminded me of details and asked a whole bunch of questions that I will need to think about.
It was really interesting to see how they made no difference between the stories they knew and the story I was telling. When I told them about the seven-headed dragon, the girls started squealing: "Don't cut off the head! Don't cut off the head!" I kind of went along with it and tweaked the story a little so the hero did not make that mistake, and everyone nodded in approval. For them, hydra and seven-headed dragon (hétfejű sárkány) were the same.
When I got to the first appearance of the Winged Wolf, the boys wanted to know if 'it was bigger than Jacob'. I told them it was definitely bigger than Jacob. Bless his cute tame teen romance werepuppy heart.
(That coming from a seasoned Werewolf: the Apocalypse player)
The story was long, but it took the class by storm. It has action, suspense, a little bit of romance, and a whole lot of mythical, magical stuff that makes the kids squeal with delight. After it was over, however, they attacked me with a whole bunch of questions: there were details in the story that did not make complete sense, and after I gave up trying to answer their questions, I had to admit that.
And this is where I have to stop to think: many storytellers and/or psychologists claim that fairy tales talk to people on an elemental, unconscious level, and they need no explanation; that they make sense in their own way. Well, that might be the case with adults, who kind of just accept that 'it is just a story, and anything is possible'. Kids, however, especially in this age group, expect the story to make sense, even within the endless realm of fantasy. Once you set a rule (love makes the prince too heavy for the winged wolf to carry him), you have to stick to it (or answer for your mistakes if you say he did carry him to his wedding in the end - or admit that the prince stopped being in love by the time it came to the wedding, which, you know, is also a plausible explanation.)
And they will have questions and they will ask them all. Which made me realize the ever-changing nature of folktales once again, and my responsibility as a storyteller to adapt them to my modern audiences. These kids know a lot about stories (mythology and fairy tales are in this year), and they will expect them to make sense to them, here and now. They will not appreciate symbols, or authenticity; they will just want to be entertained in a world they are just starting to discover. So in the end, you have to be responsible for changing the story to meet those needs, and at the same time stay true to the original as much as you can.
You are a storyteller - make it work. They will let you know if it does.